Onto the workout!
Now that we have that out of the way, I'll explain the basic home workout routine to you with some video examples. Here is the list of the exercises for your home workout, which I call "Fit with Four":
1. Compound leg exercise: Squat or Lunge
2. Compound exercise for chest, triceps, and shoulder: Chest Press or Push-up
3. Compound movement for back, biceps, and shoulder: Bent-Over Row
4. Movement for abdominals: Vertical Crunch and Side Crunch for abs, or Bicycles for abs
These moves are strictly examples. You might find a move that's better for you in the descriptions below!
If it seems inconvenient or downright impossible to get to the gym or devote an hour a day to working out, there’s no need to worry because that’s not necessary to achieve a decent fitness level.
No one is too busy to start a 10-30-minute-per-week home workout routine. It's all about priorities! Working out is an investment in your quality of life, both now and in the future. You'll have more energy and get more done when you're in shape. You'll also look and feel younger for many more years that you would if you didn't exercise.
Please don’t be a black-and-white thinker and decide that if you can’t be in the gym every day you don’t want to work out at all. If you are wary of committing large chunks of time and money on fitness right now, give this home workout routine a try. Keep reading for instructions on how to perform the exercises and for pictures of the correct form.
How many repetitions and sets to perform
For all exercises, perform 10 repetitions (reps for short) to start. When that’s no problem, increase your reps to 12 or 15 at a time. When you’re able to complete 15 reps with correct form, go up in weight or move to the more advanced exercise. As a beginner, each rep should take about 4 seconds: 1-2 seconds to lift and 2-3 to return. That means a 15-rep set should take you approximately 60 seconds to complete. Be sure to time your sets every once in a while to make sure you’re working at the correct pace during your home workout.
Once you're comfortable doing one set of each move, try adding a second or a third. 70% of the benefit comes from the first set, so if you only have time for one, you're still getting a ton out of it!
Here are more options for you if the ones above aren't quite right!
Jakki's legs have never felt stronger!
1. Compound Leg Exercise
The squat is one of the best leg exercises there is, and is perfect for a home workout. It targets the hamstrings, quads, hips, and butt. The squat also uses the abs, low back, and calf as stabilizers.
First, you need to learn the proper stance for the squat:
- Stand upright with your feet about one foot wider than hip-width on each side.
- Turn your toes out slightly.
- Tighten your abs and tense your low back, keeping the slight natural arch in your spine. Keep your chin up and your eyes straight forward.
- Assume the “straight leg” position, which for compound leg exercises means keeping a very slight bend to the knee, as it can be harmful to the joint if you completely lock out your knees while they are in a weight-bearing position.
Next, you need to learn the proper execution for the squat:
- Bend your knees until your upper thighs are parallel to the ground. If flexibility or strength limits you, only go as low as you can. Think of sitting back into a chair as you bend your knees.
- Keep your back slightly arched with your butt sticking out a little in the back, and keep your chest up. The motion is similar to sitting down on a chair, with your weight on your heels and your butt shifted back.
- Keep your shoulders upright and pulled back with your chest slightly out and your eyes straight ahead, and keep your chin up during the exercise. Make sure your torso doesn’t tilt forward much if at all.
At one point, if not now, you will want to add resistance so that this exercise is challenging in the 10-15 rep range. Your options for adding resistance are dumbbells or a barbell.
Dumbbells will be easier to start with and require less equipment, making it a nice choice for a home workout:
- Let a dumbbell hang vertically from your hands by interlacing your fingers around the handle of the dumbbell and pressing your palms against the inside edge of the top bell.
- Let your arms hang straight down and execute the squat.
If you’re going to use a barbell, it should be placed across the back of your neck, resting on your upper back and shoulders. If the weight is heavy enough to challenge your legs you will probably need a squat rack, or at least a strong spotter, to help you position the barbell properly and take it on and off your back safely.
- If you can lift the barbell over your head, lift it up and place it behind your head. If you have a partner, have him place the barbell behind your neck. If you have a squat rack, you should have the pins on the squat rack set a little lower than shoulder height. Duck under the barbell and stand up under it to leave it resting on your upper back.
- Your hands should be gripping the barbell and should be about 1-2 feet wider than your head on each side (choose the most comfortable position).
- Execute the squat.
Another option for a compound leg exercise is a lunge. Lunges are also a great home workout choice, requiring little or no equipment. You might choose the lunge over the squat for a number of reasons:
- The squat continues to feel awkward even after you’ve been practicing for weeks, or it causes pain in your knees.
- You need to use more weight to continue challenging yourself on the squat, but don’t have access to it (you can’t hold a heavier dumbbell or you don’t have a barbell and squat rack).
- You’re getting bored with the squat or have been doing it for a while and have reached a plateau.
- You want more variety in your program.
The technique for walking lunges, the most effective type for general strength training, is as follows:
- Start by standing fully upright with both feet together.
- Take a large step forward with one leg, then bend your knees until your back knee is nearly touching the floor. Do not allow your front knee to pass beyond your toes.
- Keeping your bodyweight on your front foot and leg, press through your front foot to stand. Bring your back leg through and take another giant step forward, this time with the other leg.
- It’s best to have a clearance of at least 8 paces so that you’re not turning around constantly – also, keep in mind that, to complete the recommended 10-15 reps for each leg, you will need to do 20-30 steps in total.
Use dumbbells or a barbell when you are ready to add resistance to your lunge:
- To use dumbbells, simply hold one in each hand.
- To use a barbell, place it across your upper back.
2. Compound Exercise for Chest, Triceps and Shoulder
Variations of the push-up will target your chest, triceps and front head of the shoulder. Push-ups are simple to perform with no equipment, which makes them perfect for a home workout. The abdominals, low back, and lateral and rear heads of the shoulder act as stabilizers.
Here is the correct form for the upper body for all variations of the type of push-up you’ll do as part of this program:
- Hands should be about two inches wider than shoulder width, and should be positioned about two inches behind the shoulders (or you can think of this as shoulders leaning about two inches beyond hands).
- Your body should remain straight through the hips so that your body forms a straight line (don’t allow your butt to stick up).
- Avoid locking out your elbow, as this can be harmful when there is weight loaded over the joint.
The easiest version is the push-up against a wall. To perform it, stand in front of a wall on your tiptoes with your arms out straight and palms flat against the wall. Bend your arms until your nose is close to the wall (touch your nose to the wall if you can), then push yourself away from the wall by straightening your arms. Make sure you don’t bend your neck forward, but rather maintain a straight neck in alignment with the spine.
If the wall version is easy for you, try a push-up with your hands against a countertop. The higher the countertop is, the easier the push-up will be. Your feet should be positioned so that your chest touches the countertop when you bend your arms. Remember to keep your body straight through the hips and allow yourself to rise on your tiptoes as you bend your arms during the push-up. Aim your chest to the edge of the countertop, touching it to the edge if you can.
The next level higher in difficulty is a push-up on the floor off your knees. For this version, your hands are on the floor with your fingers pointed forward. Bend your knees and cross your feet at the ankles. Be sure to keep a straight body through the hips, meaning that your butt does not stick up. Keep your neck in alignment with the spine and try to touch your nose to the floor.
A more advanced option is push-ups on the floor off your toes. If you need something even more difficult, try weighted push-ups, either wearing a backpack filled with however many pounds you need, or with a friend (or enemy!) pushing on your back.
If you want to change your home workout routine at some point, consider dumbbell or barbell chest presses (also called the bench press) in place of push-ups if you have access to the equipment.
For a chest press or bench press, you need a flat bench or an incline bench and either two dumbbells or a barbell:
- Start holding the weights above your chest with your hands 1-2 inches wider than shoulders.
- If you are using dumbbells, hold them the “long way” so they form one long line.
- Bend your arms until the barbell is close to or actually touching your chest, or the dumbbells are at the sides of your torso in line with your chest. If you actually touch your chest with the weight you might feel a strain in your shoulders if your flexibility isn’t so good. Only go as deep as you can comfortably go.
- Press the weight back up until your arms are fully extended (if you’re using dumbbells, don’t try to move them in or out while you push – just push straight up and straighten your elbows and the weights will naturally move toward each other a little bit).
- Avoid locking out your elbows, as this can be harmful when there is weight loaded above the joint.
3. Compound Exercise for Back, Biceps and Shoulder
Bent-over rows target the lats, biceps and rear head of the shoulder. They are the best move you can do for a home workout with little or no equipment. When done standing, bent-over rows also work the low back. The hamstrings, forearms, and quads act as stabilizers during the bent-over row.
The execution is as follows:
- Start bent-over at the waist with your back at a 45-degree angle to the ground. Bend your knees slightly and arch your back slightly. Stick your butt out a little.
- Hold dumbbells the “long way” (end to end) or a barbell. With your arms hanging straight down at shoulder width, pull the weights up toward your ribcage by contracting your back muscles (think about squeezing your scapula together). Touch the weights to your abdomen if possible. Elbows will move back beyond the sides of your body, and can be a few inches away from your body.
- Lower the weights by straightening your elbows until your arms hang straight down from your shoulders.
If you find it uncomfortable to stand bent-over as described, you can perform this movement one arm at a time. You’ll need to bend over until your back is nearly parallel to the ground. Place one palm on a bench or the edge of a couch. For this exercise you need to hold a dumbbell in your other hand. Hold the dumbbell parallel to your body with your palm facing in toward your body. When you pull one dumbbell at a time, you should keep your elbow tucked in to your body.
This version of the exercise (as opposed to the standing one) has its benefits because you should be able to use a bit more weight in one hand and isolate each lat a little better. However, for a four-exercise home workout routine, the standing version is preferable because it also targets your low back.